April 22, 2013

III. Mass Graves

I saw three trucks full of dead bodies, some wrapped in tarpaulin. They were brought to the funeral ground here [Thackabyin Rd.]. ...The smell was terrible.[156]
Rohingya man, displacement site, Sittwe, November 2012

In locations in Arakan State where violence and abuses have occurred since June, community members told us that state security forces have not provided information about the bodies they collect. This is particularly true in cases implicating the security forces. The failure to provide information about the bodies of victims of violence places a great burden on their families and will hinder future efforts to provide accountability and redress.

                                                 

Human Rights Watch uncovered evidence of four mass-grave sites in Arakan State, three dating from the immediate aftermath of the June violence and one from the October violence. Rohingya men who participated in digging mass graves told us that they did so under orders from the authorities in four different areas: Yan Thei village in Mrauk-U Township and at three different sites near the Ba Du Baw IDP camp outside Sittwe. Several Rohingya said they had witnessed a large mass grave being dug by army personnel outside Ba Du Baw IDP camp.

Mass Graves at Yan Thei Village, Mrauk-U Township

As reported earlier in the report, the Arakanese attack on Yan Thei village on October 23 resulted in the deaths of at least 52 Rohingya, according to local village-head records obtained by Human Rights Watch. Two witnesses claim that at least 70 Rohingya died. On October 25, villagers began digging graves for Rohingya killed in the massacre. Several told us they began digging individual graves but police and army officials ordered them to dig larger graves in the interest of time. A Rohingya man told Human Rights Watch:

That night [October 23], we could not collect the dead. We collected them in the morning but we could not bury them. We had to wait one day for [government] approval. Once we received permission we ... put three or four bodies in one hole, and many more in other holes. ... The [larger] holes we dug were 10 feet wide and several feet deep. We made at least one very big hole and other smaller ones. At first we buried the bodies in single graves but then the soldiers said we should dig bigger graves because single graves would take too much time. They wanted it done quickly. It was both the police and army who ordered us to dig bigger graves. They were watching over us.[157]

Another Rohingya man said he buried 61 people, and he estimated that others later died from injuries, making a total of about 70 killed:

We dug the graves. We buried 11 men, 20 women, and nearly 30 children. At that time the children couldn’t escape with their parents. All the children were killed by knife, and then they threw them into the fire. They had burns. I brought some of the burned, dead bodies here to bury them. We buried the dead bodies after getting permission from the army. When we were burying the bodies, the security forces were standing nearby. They were together, the army and the police.[158]

A Rohingya man who buried his mother said:

My mother was stabbed with a knife in her head and neck. She died from bleeding. She died in the evening. I was with her at the time. We could not do anything for her. Later, we received permission from the authorities to bury her, so we buried her. I dug her grave with some other relatives.[159]

Mass Grave on Thackabyin Road

Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that immediately following the wave of June violence, on June 14, Burmese army soldiers dug a mass grave on the road to Thackabyin outside the Ba Du Baw IDP camp, just west of Sittwe.

Displaced Rohingya and local villagers confirmed the details of what happened: three military trucks arrived at the Muslim cemetery and then pulled away when people gathered; soldiers dug holes in what was formerly a Buddhist cremation compound several hundred yards away; and several dozen bodies were unceremoniously buried. They assumed the bodies were Muslim because the bodies were buried – had they been Buddhist they would have most likely been cremated – and because the trucks appeared to have left the Muslim cemetery to avoid a crowd of Rohingya that had gathered.

In a response to a question from Human Rights Watch about how dead bodies were dealt with by the authorities, the Ministry of Border Affairs claimed on February 26 that dead Rakhine bodies were cremated in Akyeiktawkone cemetery in order to avoid “Bengali villages and refugee camps” that existed on the same road as another cemetery.[160] The government claimed, “The dead bodies of Bengalis [Rohingya] were buried in their religious cemeteries with the arrangement of [the] Rakhine State Government.”[161]

A Rohingya woman said:

There were three military trucks. I saw them digging a pit and one truck was parked near the pit. When we passed by the funeral ground, there were two men holding shovels over a pit. There were bad smells and no one was allowed to pass through there. I saw one person who tried to go into the area and he was stopped by the military. The men next to the pit had on undershirts and military uniform trousers. I saw them take a lot of dead bodies out of one truck. I saw them drop them next to the pit. I also saw a coffin being laid on the ground. There was one coffin and the rest were piled up bodies. If I guessed I would say there were around 50 or 60 bodies. Some bodies had clothes on, some didn’t.[162]

Another Rohingya woman who had been walking on the road to Thackabyin, told us:

At around 10 a.m. we saw the truck filled with dead bodies. There were two people wearing t-shirts with army pants. They were digging in the ground and there were two other trucks parked there. The men who were digging were Burman or Arakanese. I think they were all army people. There was an awful smell coming from the area. When we returned from shopping they hadn’t finished digging the ditch. I could see in the back of the truck and the smell was very bad. One dead body was in a wooden coffin. ... The [displaced Muslim] men walking back and forth on the road also saw it but they didn’t want to tell anybody. People are very afraid to talk.[163]

A Rohingya woman said that government trucks, including the truck filled with dead bodies, arrived in the morning of June 14:

At first they went to the Muslim cemetery, slowed down to a stop, and then the trucks turned around and drove back toward the Buddhist funeral ground [several hundred yards away]. The soldiers buried the bodies themselves. I watched them do it. We think they saw us taking photos the day before, and that they knew we took photos, so they went elsewhere [to the Buddhist funeral ground]. And [Rohingya] people were gathering as they drove near the Rohingya cemetery.[164]

Some bodies also appear to have been cremated. A 26-year-old Rohingya man who had witnessed killings of Rohingya by the police in nearby Narzi on June 12 said:

They [army] let us take some dead bodies, but the rest of them we couldn’t take. Most of the Muslim bodies were taken away by the authorities and cremated in the Buddhist cremation center. The place I am living is less than a mile away from the cemetery. We could see the burning [at the cremation center].[165]

In a response to questions from Human Rights Watch, the government claimed that bodies of Arakanese were cremated in “Akyeiktawkone cemetery”; they did not mention the cremation of Rohingya bodies.

Mass Graves Outside Ba Du Baw IDP Camp

Witnesses said that on June 13, a government truck arrived at an area outside Ba Du Baw IDP camp and dumped 18 naked and half-clothed bodies in a pile.

Human Rights Watch obtained photos from local sources showing a cluster of bodies, including at least one of a child. Although Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the identities of the victims, local witnesses and those who buried the bodies asserted they were Rohingya.

Some bodies had their hands still bound, and appeared to have been killed execution style.[166] Many showed signs of blunt force trauma, stab wounds, and gunshot wounds. Human Rights Watch visited the location where the photos were taken and learned at least three Rohingya men had been ordered to bury the bodies in two nearby graves.

A 48-year-old Rohingya man explained the condition of the bodies, matching what is depicted in the photos obtained by Human Rights Watch:

They dropped the bodies right here. Three bodies had gunshot wounds. Some had burns, some had stab wounds. One gunshot wound was on the forehead, one on the chest. Two men’s hands were tied at the wrists in front and another one had his arms tied in the back. We buried the bodies. ... I saw one police car and two municipal trucks [bring the bodies]. After dropping off the bodies the police ordered us to bury them.[167]

A Rohingya woman who also witnessed the burial said: “On the 13th [of June] some municipal people brought dead bodies here so some people could bury them. They just threw down the bodies. They left 18 bodies that day. That was early in the morning, around 9 a.m.”[168]

One Rohingya man explained that the authorities dumped bodies on two consecutive days: “The first day it was a municipal truck and the second day it was a municipal truck. I saw it both days but we were afraid to take a photograph.”[169]

The bodies that were dumped were buried in two pits demarcated with two makeshift bamboo fences constructed by local Rohingya. Human Rights Watch photographed the gravesites, marked the GPS coordinates,[170] and interviewed other witnesses and gravediggers who all provided similar details.[171]

Human Rights Watch was unable to learn the provenance of the bodies. A Rohingya man, 36, said that he had helped place 17 bodies of Rohingya in an army truck in Narzi, several kilometers away, on June 12.[172]Other witnesses to the violence in Narzi also reported seeing detained Rohingya tied in ways similar to that described by those who saw the corpses:

At one time, when they [Arakanese] came I saw them catch one [Rohingya] man and they tied his hands behind his back and made him sit in the street. There were police nearby. They were working together [with the Arakanese]. They tied his hands behind his back with a gray-color plastic string. They had very long swords.[173]

Another Rohingya woman who fled her home in Sittwe on June 10 said: “They [police and Arakanese attackers] brought everybody they caught to the road. They tied everybody behind their backs.”[174]

Bodies Taken by State Security Forces

Several Muslims told Human Rights Watch that they saw security forces collecting dead bodies after the violence in June and October. Apart from concerns about accountability for the crimes that were committed, the Muslim communities considered it offensive that they were unable to provide proper religious burials for their dead.

A Rohingya woman, describing events that took place in Narzi quarter, Sittwe, in June, told Human Rights Watch: “Nobody could carry the dead bodies. Some of us tried to get the bodies but we couldn’t. I saw the security forces take the bodies of the two young boys and young men who I saw get shot.”[175]

A Kaman Muslim man who witnessed the police kill two boys aged 16 and 17 and a 21-year-old man just a few feet away from him in Kyauk Pyu said:

They [the three] were all dead. We took their bodies into the compound of the mosque. They were not buried. By the time we left our village there were [many] dead in Kyauk Pyu. It was both police and Tatmadaw [army] who took them. I saw them taking the bodies away. Many people are still missing today. I don’t know where the bodies are now.[176]

A Rohingya man, 56, from Minbya witnessed four killings by Arakanese in his village on October 22. He said, “We have no information about our relatives’ dead bodies. We have our own graveyard but they are not buried there. I do not know who took the dead bodies.”[177]

[156] Human Rights Watch interview with K.O., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with J.R., Mrauk-U township, Arakan State, November 2012.

[158] Human Rights Watch interview with J.Q., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.

[159] Human Rights Watch interview with K.S., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.

[160] Ministry of Border Affairs, “Answers for English Version on Human Rights Watch Questions,” Government of Burma response to Human Rights Watch, February 26, 2013, p.3. See Appendix II. This was in response to the question: “What did the authorities do with the bodies of those killed during the sectarian violence in Arakan State? What was the procedure for handling the bodies? Where are the location(s) of the bodies?”

[161] Ibid.

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with K.N., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with L.K., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[164] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with Z.E., Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012, The Government Could Have Stopped This, p. 31, n. 70.

[166] Local Rohingya took the photos at great personal risk, since possession of mobile phones and cameras routinely results in serious repercussions, including violence or detention. One Rohingya woman told Human Rights Watch, “No one is allowed to handle cameras or telephones. These will bring great trouble.” Human Rights Watch interview with K.M., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[167] Human Rights Watch interview with K.Q., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012.

[168] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, Burma, November 2012.

[169] Human Rights Watch interview with K.O., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012.

[170] The GPS coordinates of the two side-by-side graves are: Lat: 20.175491º N and Lon: 92.819115º E 

[171] Human Rights Watch interviews outside Ba Du Baw IDP camp, Arakan State, Burma, November 2012.

[172] “They [Arakanese] started torching the houses. When the people tried to put out the fires, the paramilitary [police] shot at us. And the group beat people with big sticks. ... We collected 17 bodies with some help from the authorities [army]. ... I can only identify one person. His name was Mohammad Sharif. He was 28 years old. ... We picked up the bodies. We put them on the military trucks. I saw one clearly; the bullet went through the chest on the left.” Human Rights Watch interview with Z.E., Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012,TheGovernment Could Have Stopped This, p. 26, n. 54.

[173] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[174] Human Rights Watch interview with K.K., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012.

[175] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[176] Human Rights Watch interview with S.M., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, October 2012.

[177] Human Rights Watch interview with K.J., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.